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Senate Releases FY2021 Spending Bill with Modest Increases for HUD and USDA Housing Programs

The Senate Appropriations Committee released on November 10 its spending bills for fiscal year (FY) 2021, including the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (THUD) bill which provides critical funding for affordable housing programs.

Overall, the Senate bill rejects the dramatic and severe spending cuts proposed by the Trump administration and provides modest funding increases to HUD programs – though at levels lower than what was proposed by the House earlier this year. Overall, the bill funds HUD at $59.5 billion – more than $11 billion above the president’s FY21 request and at least $2.9 billion above FY20 enacted levels, but nearly $2 billion less than the House version. For more details on FY21 spending bill, see NLIHC’s updated budget chart.

Thanks to Senate THUD Subcommittee Chair Susan Collins (R-ME) and Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-RI), housing programs received modest increases in funding, despite strict spending caps required by the Budget Control Act. While Congress reached a two-year bipartisan budget agreement in 2019 to provide limited relief from these spending caps, the Appropriations Committees had only about $5 billion more in FY21 than FY20 for all domestic programs, including affordable housing.

The spending bill likely provides enough funding to renew all existing contracts provided through Housing Choice Vouchers ($25.5 billion) and Project-Based Rental Assistance ($13.4 billion), assuming additional costs will be met through a coronavirus relief package. Beyond rental assistance, the Senate THUD bill provides moderate funding increases to most programs. The HOME Investment Partnerships program (HOME) ($1.375 billion) received a slight increase of $25 million, the Community Development Block Grants ($3.46 billion) received an extra $30 million, and public housing ($7.44 billion) is up slightly from $7.42 billion. Homeless Assistance Grants ($2.95 billion), Section 202 Housing for the Elderly ($853 million), and Section 811 Housing for People with Disabilities ($237 million) received increased funding as well. The subcommittee provides level funding for Tribal block grants ($647 million), Tribal competitive funds ($100 million), Housing for Persons with AIDS ($410 million), and Fair Housing ($70 million) programs. The Choice Neighborhoods Initiative ($100 million) was cut by $75 million.

The Senate bill clearly rebukes the harmful rent increases, rigid work requirements, and de facto time limits proposed by the president in his past budget requests and in subsequent legislation.

Unfortunately, the Senate bill fails to include legislative language approved in the House version that would halt cruel proposals advanced by HUD Secretary Ben Carson, including the proposed anti-transgender rule change to the Equal Access Rule. It does not prevent harmful changes to the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule and Disparate Impact rule that would undermine tools used to address historic and ongoing legacies of racial discrimination. The bill does not halt HUD from moving forward with its proposal to force mixed-status immigrant families – including 55,000 U.S. citizen children – to separate or face eviction from HUD housing. The bill does include important steps to prevent HUD from undermining Housing First, a proven model for addressing homelessness backed by decades of research and learning, though these protections are not as extensive as in the House version.

Unlike the House spending bill, the Senate bill does not provide funding for emergency infrastructure investments. This omission underscores the necessity of Congress to enact in the coming year an infrastructure bill to address the affordable housing needs of the lowest-income renters.

Advocates should continue to urge their members of Congress to pass final spending bills in the lame duck session and to ensure the highest level of funding possible for affordable housing programs. Now that the Senate has released its proposal, congressional leaders will work quickly to negotiate final spending bills for the upcoming fiscal year. Congress passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) in September to extend funding for the federal government at FY20 levels until December 11. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have both signaled their willingness to finalize and pass all 12 spending bills before the CR expires in order to avoid a government shutdown.

Key Policies:

The Senate bill does not include many critical provisions provided in the House version to halt harmful and discriminatory proposals from the Trump administration.

The Senate bill is silent on HUD’s proposed anti-transgender rule change to the Equal Access Rule – a proposal that would put at risk the lives and safety of trans people seeking shelter, especially trans women of color. The House version would ensure transgender individuals have access to single-sex emergency shelters and other facilities that match their gender identity. NLIHC, True Colors United, and other national organizations launched the Housing Saves Lives campaign and mobilized advocates to submit more than 66,000 public comments in opposition to the proposed rule. To learn more, visit www.HousingSavesLives.org.

The Senate bill does not include the House version’s language to prevent HUD from finalizing its proposed rule to force mixed-status immigrant families – including 55,000 U.S. citizen children – to separate or face eviction from HUD housing. HUD's proposed rule would force families of mixed immigration status to break up to receive housing assistance, to forego assistance altogether, or face termination from the programs. This rule would directly impact thousands of immigrant families’ access to housing and would have a chilling effect that puts thousands more at risk of homelessness. HUD’s own analysis shows that more than 55,000 children, who are either U.S. citizens or otherwise eligible to receive housing benefits, could face eviction under the proposed rule. The proposed rule would continue to engender fear and chaos among immigrants and their families. More than 30,000 comments were submitted during the public comment period on the proposed rule, reflecting the overwhelming opposition from individuals, organizations, and elected officials. To learn more and stay engage with our efforts to oppose this rule, visit: www.Keep-Families-Together.org

The Senate bill does not include legislative text to prevent HUD’s harmful changes to the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule and Disparate Impact rule that undermine tools used to address historic and ongoing legacies of racial discrimination. The House bill includes such provisions.

While the Senate bill takes an important step to prevent HUD from undermining Housing First, it does not go as far as the House version. Housing First is a proven model for addressing homelessness that prioritizes access to permanent, stable housing with supportive services, if needed. Both the House and Senate spending bills require HUD to use the 2018 Continuum of Care Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA), which ensures Housing First and LBGT protections. Unlike the House version, however, the Senate bill does not prohibit HUD from imposing treatment or other pre-requisites on people experiencing homelessness as a condition for receiving shelter or other assistance. Moreover, the Senate bill does not prohibit the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) from using funding to promote homelessness interventions unless those interventions include support for evidence-based interventions like Housing First and permanent supportive housing. The House included these provisions after several false claims made by USICH Director Robert Marbut and after testimony HUD Secretary Carson made before the subcommittee that he was “looking for ways to work around” Housing First. Both administration officials have clearly demonstrated a critical lack of understanding of the causes and solutions to homelessness.

Finally, the Senate bill – like the House version – rejects Secretary Carson’s proposal to slash federal housing benefits through harmful rent increases, rigid work requirements, and other barriers to assistance that only make it more difficult for low-income people to climb the economic ladder and live with dignity.

Infrastructure Investments:

The Senate spending bill does not include emergency infrastructure investments, as included in the House version. The House provided $75 billion in emergency infrastructure investments, including $49 billion for housing investments. Of those housing investments, $24 billion was for public housing capital repairs, which face a $70 billion backlog. The House infrastructure provisions also provide $4 billion through CDBG, $17.5 billion through HOME, and $1 billion for Tribal housing, $300 million for Choice Neighborhoods, among other investments. These emergency funds are not reflected in NLIHC updated budget chart.

Tenant-Based Rental Assistance:

The House bill provides $25.516 billion for tenant-based rental assistance (TBRA), including $22.891 billion to renew previous contracts. This is a significant increase over President Trump’s $18.833 billion request for TBRA for FY21 and an increase of $1.642 billion from last year. This amount should be adequate to renew existing vouchers, assuming Congress provides additional funding in a COVID-19 supplemental appropriation to adjust rents for tenants with decreased incomes. 

The bill allocates $40 million for Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) and $5 million to serve Native American veterans. These amounts are $20 million and $2.5 million higher than the House FY21 bill, respectively.

The bill provides $300 million for Section 811 mainstream vouchers, $10 million less than what was provided in the president’s budget request. The bill also includes $25 million for Family Unification vouchers, the same amount provided in FY20 and in the FY21 House bill.

Unlike the House bill, incremental vouchers for families who are homeless or are at risk of being homeless are not included in the Senate bill. The Senate bill also does not ensure that HUD uses a Housing First approach with these funds by prohibiting any requirement for people experiencing homelessness to receive treatment or perform any other prerequisite activities as a condition for receiving shelter, housing, or other services.

Public Housing:

The bill provides the capital account with $2.765 billion, with an additional $75 million for emergency capital needs. Increased funding for the public housing capital account is urgently needed to enable housing agencies to make critical repairs, such as fixing leaky roofs and replacing outdated heating systems, that will improve living conditions for thousands of residents and help preserve this essential part of the nation’s affordable housing infrastructure for the future. President Trump proposed slashing funding for this account in his FY21 budget.

Funding for the public housing operating fund is set at $4.492 billion, and an additional $25 million is made available based on need.

The Senate bill provides $25 million to remove lead-based hazards in public housing, $20 million in competitive funds for a Healthy Homes Initiative to address mold, radon, and carbon monoxide poisoning, and $15 million for troubled properties. An additional $23 million is to support financial and physical assessment activities. While the bill does not provide additional funding for the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program, it does contain a general provision to expand the RAD program from 455,000 to 500,000 units.

The Family Self-Sufficiency program is funded at $105 million, up by $25 million compared to FY20 enacted levels.

Homelessness:

The bill increases funding for homeless assistance programs to $2.95 billion, up from $2.777 billion in FY20. The president would have funded the programs at $2.773 billion. The House bill would fund these programs at $3.42 billion.

The bill also provides $3.8 million to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. The bill does not include any restriction on travel expenses by the USICH director, unlike the House bill which capped this expense at $15,000.

Unfortunately, the bill does not include the key policy provisions to ensure greater protections for trans people seeking shelter, though the bill takes limited steps to ensure programs adhere to Housing First. More details on these provisions are above in the section on “Key Policies.”

Other Housing Programs: 

The bill proposes $853 million for the Section 202 Housing for the Elderly program, an increase of $60 million from the FY20 funding bill, but $40 million less than the House bill. The bill also increases funding for the Section 811 Housing for People with Disabilities program to $237 million, $35 million above FY20 enacted levels and $10 million above the House’s proposed funding levels for FY21. These amounts provide sufficient funding to renew all contracts and provide new construction for both programs.  

The bill would increase funding for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program to $3.455 billion, $30 million over FY20 enacted funding but $70 million less than the House’s proposal. It provides $1.375 billion for the HOME Investments Partnerships program (HOME), up from $1.35 billion in FY20. Both programs would have been eliminated under the president’s budget request. 

Funding for the Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS (HOPWA) program would receive level funding from FY20 at $410 million. The president proposed funding HOPWA at $330 million, and the House proposed funding the program at $430 million. 

The Choice Neighborhoods Initiative is funded at $100 million, a decrease of $75 million from this year’s enacted level and $150 million less than the House’s FY21 proposal. The Initiative received no funding in the president’s budget.  

The bill provides $647 million to the Native American Housing Block Grant program, an increase of $1 million from FY20 enacted levels, and an additional $100 million for competitive grants. Under the president’s budget, the program would have received $600 million with no additional competitive grant funding. The bill also provides legislative language to ensure the additional competitive funding is targeted to tribes based on need and capacity. NLIHC and its tribal partners had advocated for better targeting of these competitive funds to tribes “with the greatest needs.”

The Native Hawaiian Housing Block Grant program received $2 million in the FY21 Senate bill, level funding from FY20 enacted levels.

Healthy Homes: 

The bill provides $360 million to the Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes’ grants, a $70 million increase from FY20 and $20 million more than the amount proposed by the House.  

Fair Housing: 

The bill maintains level funding for HUD’s office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at $70 million. This amount is $10 million less than the amount included in the House bill.

USDA Programs:

The FY21 Agriculture spending bill proposed by the Senate would largely provide level funding to USDA Rural Housing Service programs, with slight increases to the Multifamily Preservation and Revitalization (MPR) demonstration ($62 million) and Section 521 Rural Rental Assistance ($1.41 billion) compared to FY20 enacted levels.